Movie Critique - Lady in the Lake

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Despite the chaos and confusion the delivery of the film might have given to the users, it is still one of the good Philip Marlowe movies, even if it is not the best.

Lady in the Lake is a 1947 American film noir marking the directorial debut of Robert Montgomery who also stars in it along-side Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames and Jayne Meadows. Film was produced by George Haight and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

Publishing executive Adrienne Fromsett (portrayed by Audrey Totter) hires private investigator Philip Marlowe (portrayed by Robert Montgomery) to find Chrystal Kingsby, wife of her boss, Derace Kingsby (portrayed by Leon Ames). And soon Marlowe gets pulled into a web of deceit, murder, and greed while the local law enforcement, Captain Kane (portrayed by Tom Tully and Lieutenant DeGarmot (Lloyd Nola), are behind Marlowe at every turn of the plot.

The film was an adaptation of 1943 Raymond Chandler novel The Lady in the Lake featuring his famous private investigator Philip Marlowe. Screenplay was written by Steve Fisher, who also was a writer for Black Mask pulp magazine for which Chandler was also a writer. The film had several changes from the original novel primarily being setting the novel in Christmas time as opposed to mid-summer.

So far I have watched the character Marlowe portrayed by Dick Powell in the 1944 American film noir Murder, My Sweet and Humphrey Bogart in the 1946 American film noir The Big Sleep. And it is common notion that Bogart's portrayal of Marlowe is by far the most superior.

However, this film that comes on the heels of the success of Bogart's The Big Sleep has made a mark for itself. Primarily the way Montgomery made the entire tale being told in first-person narration style by Marlowe and shown from the view point of this central character. Except for a couple of times when Montgomery actually faces the audience, the rest of the film shows what he does or sees; and essentially all the characters talking to a camera. Credit goes to head of photography, John Arnold, to get Montgomery's idea to fruition.

Other than his hands and feet, the few scenes that we actually see Robert Montgomery are - at the beginning of the film giving an introduction; in between the scenes to connect the plot details and explain what he is doing or going to do; thrice as a reflection in mirror along-side Totter's Fromsett; once his own reflection showing him tying a tie; once in a hand-held mirror after he gets into an accident; reflection of himself in a robe checking himself out the day after the accident; and at the end of the film concluding the tale. 

Although MGM promoted that this was the most revolutionary style of film making and one of a kind, a similar concept was used briefly for several scenes in the 1941 American film noir The Maltese Falcon where they are showed from over Bogart's Sam Spade's shoulders giving the audience Spade's point of view.

Warner Bros. also use this similar concept in one of Bogart's films, the Dark Passage, an American mystery thriller, that was released 9 months after this film was released in 1947, by showing almost an hour of the film subjectively from Bogart's Vincent Parry's perspective. Originally this idea was from producer writer Delmar Daves who had directed and produced Dark Passage. 

Another unique feature of the film was that there was no instrumental soundtrack in the film. The music was provided by vocal chorus of either no words or words to the tunes of Christmas songs, even on the opening and closing credits. The opening credits are rolled on a series of Christmas cards eventually revealing a pistol. Despite being called a "gimmick" upon it's release, the film went on to become a hit. Now it is considered a classic noir.

The lead actress is Audrey Totter portraying the role of publishing executive Adrienne Fromsett. This film was her third credited role in films. I  remember seeing her in one episode of Perry Mason TV show, The Case of the Reckless Hound, Season 8, Episode 10. She also was in the 1946 American film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, in a supporting role of Madge Gorland, her first credited role. 

Both Montgomery and Totter's characters had equal balance in the plotting, neither overshadowed the other. And Totter's character is such mis-leading to be a femme fatale, but she did so wonderfully fooling everyone. Though the plot had some unique way of presenting, the general plot-line was so complex and sometime confusing to the viewers, yet it became a smash hit.

Despite the chaos and confusion the delivery of the film might have given to the users, it is still one of the good Philip Marlowe movies, even if it is not the best. It is worth watching just for the way it was presented, and of course the twists that surprise the viewers. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Filmmakers play an inside joke on the audience by crediting "Ellay Mort" for portraying the role of Chrystal Kingsby, It is a play on words of the French phrase "elle est monde" meaning "She is dead" Since the character is never shown on screen dead or alive, we can only surmise that it was a joke. Note the disclaimer at the bottom of the title card as well. 

b. A 60-minute radio adaptation was presented by Lux Radio Theater on February 9, 1948 with Montgomery and Totter reprising their roles. In my recent old time radio podcasts that I have been listening to, I did come across this episode and had heard it. 

c. As part of Michael Shayne series of detective films, in 1942 Time to Kill was released which was based on Raymond Chandler's 1942 novel The High Window. Although the film has Michael Shayne as the private eye instead of Philip Marlow. Lloyd Nolan plays the role of Michael Shayne. Look for him as Lieutenant DeGarmot in this film Lady in the Lake. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Lavery tells Marlowe that he hasn’t seen Mrs. Kingsby "in a month of Sundays". But when he reports back to Ms. Fromsett, he tells that Lavery hadn't seen Mrs. Kingsby "in two months". The phrase "in a month of Sundays" usually means 30 weeks. 

b. The bullet holes on the shower door and their corresponding holes on the tiled wall inside do not match.

c. When Adrienne takes the mirror back from Marlowe, you can see the reflection of a crew member's head in the mirror.


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